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Health Costs for Uninsured Workers Examined

Uninsured rate for low-wage workers showed rise in brief period; high-wage workers largely spared

MONDAY, May 5 (HealthDay News) -- A pair of reports released by The Commonwealth Fund on May 2 examines changing trends from the 1990s to the mid-2000s related to health coverage for American workers and the public implications created by uninsured workers.

Sherry Glied, Ph.D., and Bisundev Mahato, of Columbia University in New York City, write that between 2000 and 2003, the full-year uninsured rate for low-wage workers rose from 23 to 31 percent. Those defined as low-wage workers made less than $8.38 an hour in 2003 (in 1996 dollars). By contrast, the uninsured rate for higher-wage workers stayed virtually the same from 1999 to 2003, the report indicates. Low-wage workers were less likely to have a usual source of care or to have received preventive services, and less likely to use newer prescription medications.

In the other paper, the authors write that though small companies have the largest share of uninsured workers, nearly half of the 9 million full-year uninsured workers are employed at large or multi-location companies. The public costs generated by uninsured and publicly insured workers and their dependents in 2004 included $12 billion in uncompensated care costs and $33 billion associated with public program insurance costs.

"In 2004, publicly insured and uninsured workers accounted for $45 billion in public costs, up from $31 billion in 1999. Rising costs have made private health insurance less accessible for many workers. At the same time, expansions in public programs, especially for children, have offered a new source of needed coverage. As policymakers consider further reforms, results from this report suggest they should support plans that combine public program expansions with efforts to maintain or expand employer-sponsored coverage," the authors conclude.

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